Government slammed for GM fiasco

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The Independent Online

The Government came under attack from all sides for its handling of the genetically modified seeds issue after it was revelaed that as manu of 500 farms have unwittingly bought engineered rapeseed by mistake.

The Government came under attack from all sides for its handling of the genetically modified seeds issue after it was revelaed that as manu of 500 farms have unwittingly bought engineered rapeseed by mistake.

The Ministry of Agriculture was accused of "frightening" complacency after an agricultural firm admitted it had supplied farms with GM seeds mixed in with its normal products.

Advanta Seeds UK told the Government hundreds of farms could have been planted with the GM rapeseed mixed with its conventional rapeseed.

Today, Labour backbencher Alan Simpson called the incident a "dreadful cock-up" and said the Government insistence that there was no risk to health or the environment was "frighteningly complacent".

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "Government scientists not too long ago were saying there was no risk of a cross-over from BSE to CJD in humans."

He was joined by Liberal Democrat leader Charles Kennedy, who called for a statement to the Commons from ministers about the incident.

Mr Kennedy said: "There is genuine public concern, there is Parliamentary concern which is of a cross-party nature and the Government have to be a lot clearer and up-front with people about this issue."

European director of Advanta Seeds David Buckeridge said there was only a "minor impurity" of the seeds but said there was no regulation to tell seed companies what level of GM content was acceptable.

He said: "It clearly is a very, very low level of impurity in the seed. I understand fully that people want this issue taken seriously, we do too."

However, also speaking on the Today programme, junior agriculture minister Baroness Hayman denied she had been "bounced" into revealing the problem by information coming out in another country or that there had been any form of cover-up.

She said she wanted to test assurances that there was no risk to public health or the environment by asking independent advisory committees whether that was true before making any announcement.

"You would have rightly criticised Government if we had come out with the story half-cock and not knowing what the facts are," she said.

The incidence is a further blow to GM manufacturers, coming just a day after Friends of the Earth claimed that honey had been contaminated by farm-scale trials of GM crops.

It also coincided with the Reith lecture delivered by the Prince of Wales warning about the perils of tampering with nature and ignoring the "essential unity" of the living and spiritual universes.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Foods said GM oilseed rape had been sown by accident on around 500 farms nationwide.

Roughly 9,000 acres were sown in 1999 and 4,500 this year.

"We are relying on company estimates," said a MAFF spokesman.

Shadow agriculture minister Tim Yeo said: "The Government cannot hide from this serious breach of trust placed in them by farmers and consumers alike. They must immediately publish details of where these crops are being grown.

"The public needs to be reassured that if these crops are not destroyed, then the environmental effects in the surrounding areas will be monitored. However, this situation should never have been allowed to arise and it raises serious questions about the testing process for seeds that are being imported to our country."

Conservative leader William Hague backed the Prince of Wales for warning that GM foods had "potentially disastrous consequences".

Mr Hague said: "I support Prince Charles for speaking out on concerns over GM foods. We now need a full inquiry into what has gone on in recent weeks."

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